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6 facts you need to know about child marriage in Nepal

Human Rights Watch interviewed over 100 children and young adults from Nepal who were married before 18. | Photo credit: 2016 - Smita Sharma - Human Rights Watch

Despite government promises for reform, too many children in Nepal are still being married off before 18 and see their futures stolen, warns Human Rights Watch in its latest report, “Our time to sing and play: child marriage in Nepal”. 37% of girls in Nepal are married before 18.

Based on interviews with over 100 children and young adults who were married as children, the report looks at the drivers of child marriage in Nepal, its impact on girls, and the structural barriers to change. Here are six things you need to know.

1) Child marriage is deeply harmful to girls

The interviews echo what research has shown globally. Married girls usually drop out of school and have babies early, often jeopardising their health and that of their children.

“The doctors told me: your uterus is small; that’s why my baby died”

Partly borne out of poverty, child marriage keeps girls and their families in a cycle of poverty. Married girls are also more likely to be victims of domestic violence. In the words of one child bride: “I used to imagine that life would go by laughing and playing. But now there’s no laughter.”

2) Education remains a distant dream for girls at risk of marriage and married girls

Human Rights Watch found that married girls lacked even basic schooling. Families are reluctant to invest in their daughters’ education because the schools are far away, of poor quality, and too expensive. A child bride explains: “Even if the education is free, we have to buy books, pencils, uniforms. Of course it was costly, so we couldn’t afford it.”

3) Adolescents are choosing “love marriages” to escape poverty, social pressure

Many adolescents described their marriage as one of love, although one driven by dire living situations. Some girls eloped before they were forced into a marriage by their parents. Others looked for a husband who could feed them.

Peer pressure plays a big part in the decision to marry too. One child bride explained that “there were too many rumours so I told him I would marry him.” Sexually active girls who fear pregnancy, or become pregnant, rush into marriages as they see it as the only option to “salvage their future”.

4) Child labour and discrimination against indigenous communities fuel child marriage

The majority of married children interviewed for this report were from Nepal’s Dalit and Janjati communities, two indigenous groups who already face systemic discrimination by the state and others. With limited access to resources, these communities are often kept in severe poverty, which in turn fuels child marriage.

Child labour is also another driver. Many married girls work in their family’s homes or in paid labour, often as agricultural or domestic workers, from a very young age. Boys and young women also seek out young bride to help with domestic chores in the house.

5) Having a high age of marriage is not enough to end child marriage

Child marriage has been illegal in Nepal since 1963 and, at 20 years old for both men and women, Nepal has one of the highest legal ages of marriage in the world. Arranging a child marriage or marrying a child is also punishable by law.

Though strong on paper, the laws are not properly enforced and child marriage rates remain high. Human Rights Watch found that “police rarely intervene to prevent child marriages […] Local government officials only sometimes refuse to register under-age marriages.”

6) The Nepali government has committed to end child marriage. Now it’s time to act!

The Government of Nepal has been developing, with UN agencies and Girls Not Brides Nepal, a National Strategy to End Child Marriage. However, the launch has been delayed since the 2015 earthquake and it is unclear when it will be implemented. The Government has also committed to ending child marriage by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Now is the time to prioritise the implementation of the SDGs target and, as a follow up the National strategy, to develop and implement a National Plan of Action to End Child Marriage. The plan should involve everyone, including governments, civil society, community leaders, Dalit and indigenous people’s rights groups, faith-based leaders and young people. It should tackle both arranged and love marriages, and assign clear lines of responsibility across government institutions, adequate resources, as well as time-bound and measurable benchmarks to track progress.

Read the rest of Human Rights Watch’s recommendations.

Human Rights Watch is a member of Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage.